World Health Organisation (WHO) in Africa joined immunisation experts in urging the international community and countries in Africa to take concrete actions to ensure equitable access to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, as researchers around the world race to find effective protection against the virus.
“It is clear that as the international community comes together to develop safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, equity must be a central focus of these efforts.
“Too often, African countries end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, including vaccines. These life-saving products must be available to everyone, not only those who can afford to pay,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti.
WHO and partners launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to speed up the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
The event brought together leaders of government, global health organisations, civil society groups, businesses and philanthropies to form a plan for an equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO is collaborating with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to ensure a fair allocation of vaccines to all countries, aiming to deliver two billion doses globally for high-risk populations, including one billion for low and middle-income countries.
African Union has endorsed the need for Africa to develop a framework to actively engage in the development and access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Countries could take steps now that would strengthen health systems, improve immunisation delivery, and pave the way for the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine.
These include: mobilising financial resources; strengthening local vaccine manufacturing, and regulatory, supply and distribution systems; building workforce skills and knowledge; enhancing outreach services; and listening to community concerns to counter misinformation.
Globally, there are nearly 150 COVID-19 vaccine candidates and currently 19 are in clinical trials.
South Africa is the first country on the continent to start a clinical trial with University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg testing a vaccine developed by the Oxford Jenner Institute in the United Kingdom.
The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is expected to involve 2,000 volunteers aged 18–65 years and include some people living with HIV. The vaccine is already undergoing trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil with thousands of participants.
According to the African Academy of Sciences only two per cent of clinical trials conducted worldwide occur in Africa. It’s important to test the COVID-19 vaccine in countries where it’s needed to ensure that it would be effective.
With more than 215,000 cases, South Africa accounts for 43 per cent of the continent’s total cases. Clinical trials must be performed according to international and national scientific and ethical standards, which include informed consent for any participant.
“I encourage more countries in the region to join these trials so that the contexts and immune response of populations in Africa are factored in to studies.
“Africa has the scientific expertise to contribute widely to the search for an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, our researchers have helped develop vaccines which provide protection against communicable diseases such as meningitis, Ebola, yellow fever and a number of other common health threats in the region,” Moeti said.
Moeti spoke about COVID-19 vaccine development in Africa during a virtual press conference today organised by APO Group.
She was joined by Principal Investigator of Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Trial in South Africa, University of Witwatersrand, Shabir Madhi; and Director of MCR/UVRI and LSHTM Ugandan Research Unit, Pontiano Kaleebu.
The briefing was streamed on more than 300 African news sites as well as WHO Regional Office for Africa’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Earlier this month WHO Africa’s principle advisory group on immunisation policies and programmes – the African Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) – also noted the need to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 and other vaccines in the region.
“As the world focuses on finding a vaccine for COVID-19, we must ensure people do not forget that dozens of lifesaving vaccines already exist. These vaccines should reach children everywhere in Africa – no one can be left behind,” said RITAG Chair, Helen Rees.
Initial analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immunisation in the African Region suggests that millions of African children are likely to be negatively impacted, as routine immunisation services and vaccination campaigns for polio, cholera, measles, yellow fever, meningitis and human papilloma virus have been disrupted.
Despite these challenges, RITAG members also noted significant milestones and markers of progress. For example, there have been tremendous gains in the fight against wild poliovirus, and the African Region is expected to be officially certified free of wild poliovirus in August 2020.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo also announced the end of its 10th Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, which was the worst in its history. An effective vaccine was a key tool in the response.
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